Myakka River Canopy Walk

Other than the Bird Trail, a boardwalk out into the Myakka River, the Myakka Canopy Walk is the most popular short trail in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, one of Southwest Florida’s largest state parks. It could be because it’s very easy to find, is family-friendly, and has a well-defined footpath, nice and broad. It could be because of the Canopy Walk itself. Before everyone in Florida went nuts adding ziplines and canopy walks to their nature attractions, this was THE real deal, the first canopy walk in Florida. It was modeled after ones used by scientists in the rainforests of South America and provides both an intimate look at the live oak canopy and a sweeping panorama of the Myakka River basin from its 76 foot observation platform.

Resources

South Florida: An Explorer's GuideHiker's Guide to the Sunshine StateFlorida State ParksFlorida State Parks

Overview

Location: Sarasota
Length: 0.8 mile
Lat-Long: 27.246417, -82.302700
Type: loop
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Difficulty: easy
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: elsewhere in the park

The park is open 8 am to sunset. Visitors staying in the campground have the opportunity to visit this trail during the off hours.

Myakka River State Park website

Directions

From I-75 exit 205, drive 9 miles east on SR 72 to the park entrance on the left. Follow the park entrance road to the trailhead, which has a sign on the right. If you reach the Y in the road for the concession area, you’ve gone too far.

Hike

This hike consists of two trails: the original William S. Boylston Nature Trail and the newer Canopy Walk Trail built to provide access to the Canopy Walk. Together, they create a short interpretive loop. From the parking area, turn to the right to walk through a hammock of large oaks and cabbage palms, the understory very open so you can see a willow marsh on the right as well as a pop ash marsh on the left. Almost immediately ahead you see the staircase for the Canopy Walk. Most people only walk up to this attraction instead of doing the full loop. You’ve entered at the exit, so you have to go to the second tower to start the climb. There are brochures about the tower and its origins at its base.

Afraid of heights? There are benches here so those who are timid about walking the narrow walkway in the treetops can sit and wait for those who are not. Trust me, it’s well worth the climb up the stairs. There are interpretive signs all the way up to tell you what you will see in the canopy. When you reach the Canopy Walk (which has a limit of four people), step gingerly. The walkway rolls with you in a forward motion like riding a wave as you cross it. You are in the tops of the live oaks, nose to nose with bromeliads and resurrection fern, and can clearly see gold foot fern on the cabbage palms. Once you cross the walkway, there is another climb to the 76 foot mark of the observation tower. The view is expansive. It’s primarily a panorama of forest, but off to the left side you see the slender ribbon of the Myakka River snaking up to Upper Myakka Lake. After you’ve enjoyed the view, climb back down the tower to continue your walk.

Continue in the same direction on the nature trail, passing the tower you climbed up. You’re in the same habitat you experienced in the walkway and tower. The cabbage palms are thick with goldfoot fern and shoelace fern, the live oaks heavily draped in their bromeliads, particularly wild pine. An interpretive sign explains canopy exploration methods. You reach a trail intersection at 0.2 mile with a bench. To the left, the short trail to the Canopy Walk returns to the parking area. Turn right to begin a counter-clockwise walk of the William S. Boylston Nature Trail.

Passing the next bench, you are firmly in this riverine hammock of cabbage palms and oaks, their fronds and leaves quivering in a constant rustle from the wind. On the right, a live oak, split down the middle, is heavy in resurrection fern on one of its arms. The trail makes a sweeping curve as you walk beneath live oaks laden with resurrection fern and bromeliads. You come to a boardwalk with an observation spot with bench on a marsh. An interpretive sign talks about the big bromeliads you see in the canopy — water pots, pineapple airplant or giant airplant — that trap water in their cuplike leaves. Meandering past an open spot in the understory, the trail narrows down, edged by saw palmetto. The view ahead is still a grand canopy of oaks ahead, with every fiber on the bromeliads lit by the fire of sunlight, sending pinkish-orange hues into the universe. Whether seen far above or close at hand it’s a spectacular sight. These trees look downright furry resplendent in their bromeliad cloaks.

Walking through another slightly open understory spot at a half mile you spy a heart in the forest: on the right, the limbs of a live oak come together to create a heart-shaped keyhole. The beauty of this place is palatable. Although the path has been roughed up a little by hogs it doesn’t matter, as you spend most of your time looking up at the gorgeous gardens in the limbs of the live oaks. Saw palmetto once again defines the corridor, and the canopy opens up a bit. Here, the sand live oaks are stripped of their limbs, perhaps by a hurricane in the past. A wall of cabbage palm off to the right defines the edge of a wetland area.

As the trail curves into a shadier forest canopy, jogging left, you walk in the continued splendor of cabbage palms and live oaks, the fronds in every direction sunlit, catching shadows of bromeliads. The corridor of saw palmetto leads to openness as you approach a bench. It looks out onto a prairie area off to the right through the trees, which can get wet after a heavy rain. Interpretive signs point out potential wildlife sightings such as screech and barred owls. You walk between columns of cabbage palms to access another boardwalk with observation seat overlooking this wet prairie as it crosses it.

Leaving the prairie to re-enter the oak and palm hammock, you can see scattered pieces of palms fallen throughout the open understory. One dead oak is a natural sculpture, its whirly swirly bark covered in patches of red blanket lichen and other lichen, shield moss, and golden polypody. The natural arcs of plant life in this forest make it a visual feast. Off to the right you can see a willow marsh between the trees. You encounter an interpretive sign that mentions that armadillos came to Florida because they fell out of an overturned train car from a Mexican Circus, a cool bit of natural history trivia.

Reaching a trail junction connector to the Canopy Walk, continue straight ahead to the parking area. A sign confirms you’re on the right path, and a few moments later you walk past the back side of the trail sign for the William S. Boylston Nature Trail. Returning to the parking area, you complete a 0.8 mile walk.

Thanks to reader Tania Ruiz for transcribing these hike details from my audio files.

Mileage

0.0trailhead
0.2trail junction / bench
0.3bench
0.6bench with prairie view
0.7trail junction
0.8trailhead

Trail Map

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